By Obi Nwakanma
News is that Mr Muhammadu Buhari returned to Nigeria on Thursday from the UK where he has spent two weeks attending an “education summit” and attending to his private medical concerns.
Right before he became President, in the heat of the campaigns in 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, then APC presidential candidate, was taken on a round-robin tour of the UK, ostensibly to kiss the rings of the British political establishment who apparently had grown weary of Goodluck Jonathan, and apparently wary of the independent path he was slowly, but increasingly toeing.
Jonathan himself has suggested in his published memoir and interviews that his unwillingness to bow to pressure from the United States and the UK on certain domestic policies led to their swing against him and very brazen interference in Nigeria’s election.
Jonathan has very specifically called out former US President Barrack Obama’s specific intervention in Nigeria’s elections. It is quite ironic that the US today decries what it claims, depending on which party is making the claim, as Russian and Chinese interferences in American elections.
There has been, as a fallout of these, very serious congressional inquiries about these alleged interferences. Election security is a fundamental aspect of national security.
Serious nations secure themselves, their national interests, and their public leadership against sovereign attacks and state capture by adversarial and competing nations, and competing interests.
National political parties of serious nations do not seek the approval of other nations on whom they should elect, nor do they parade them for the approval of other competing powers or nations.
The Brits certainly do not bring their political leaders to come to Nigeria to kiss the rings of Nigeria’s political leadership or seek their approval before UK elections. They certainly do not come to the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) to outline their foreign policies.
It should be known to all Nigerians that the British Empire is no longer Nigeria’s “colonial master,” though it feels like Nigerian political leadership of a particular cut of cloth still has this colonial hang-over.
At the core of Nigeria’s underdevelopment is this “capture” of Nigeria’s political leadership by foreign powers to whom they seem to genuflect, and to whom they pledge fealty before they seek to govern a sovereign nation like Nigeria. In its own rights and by its self-definition Nigeria claimed absolute freedom from all these since the Act of the republic in 1963.
It is the running joke, however, among Nigerians that Muhammadu Buhari is governing Nigeria from Britain. It is almost as if he is Britain’s Proconsul to Nigeria. He has certainly spent more time in the UK than any other Head of State of Nigeria since Nigeria became independent in 1960.
In fact, just before he became president, with the direct interference by Britain on Nigerian elections, Muhammadu Buhari was taken to meet Gordon Brown. He saw Tony Blair. He was taken before the then Prime Minister David Cameron who later said to the Queen that “Nigeria is fantastically corrupt.” Buhari also stood on the sureties of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the former oilman who found religion, but who before wearing his dog collar, knew Buhari in the dirty crude oil pits of Nigeria.
Buhari kissed all their good old English rings. He was shepherded across London by those whom Nigerians know well as British agents in Nigeria – Rotimi Amechi, Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola, Kayode Fayemi and of course, the chief broker of them all, the great old fox, Olusegun Obasanjo.
It was a formidable public relations endeavour that returned Buhari to the warm embrace of the British establishment after years of wary distrust, particularly after the Umaru Dikko mishap. In any case, Muhammadu Buhari has since made London, his second home after Abuja.
He literally governs Nigeria from the political capital of another sovereign nation. This is more ways than one speaks to the tragic situation of Nigeria under this president. While he was campaigning for president, Muhammadu Buhari understood the disgust and disenchantment a majority of Nigerians felt against their public officials who were globe-trotting on the purse of the Nigerian public.
They sent their children to secondary schools and universities overseas while Nigerian public schools collapsed from underfunding and poor management. University lecturers went on interminable strikes.
Nigerian universities became slowly, and sadly, the butt of international jokes with the decay in infrastructure and in the quality of personnel, and in the general culture of the university.
Public officials went abroad for medical treatment when Nigerian hospitals, including the National Hospital in Abuja, became morgues. Muhammadu Buhari promised on his honour that he would put an end to “medical tourism,” by public officials, starting with himself.
He would turn the Presidential fleet to the use of a new National Airline, and he would travel lightly, not on presidential jets, but on the public carrier which presumably would be so well-run, we might set our watches by it. All turned out to be con. This president has spent more public funds on his personal health than any Head of state of Nigeria in living memory, and this on foreign doctors in the UK.
Two weeks ago, just as Nigeria’s Resident doctors were giving notice on a strike following complaints on conditions, both of their services, and of the hospital environment, Muhammadu Buhari was flying off on a presidential jet to a hospital in the UK. He had used the cover of an inconsequential “Education Summit” which was billed in any case as a Zoom meeting. No serious nation sent even a Director-level contingent to attend this “Education summit.” Bit it was his excuse to escape Nigeria and to embark on medical tourism.
Here is the catch: the UK is cannibalizing the Nigerian Healthcare system by absorbing Nigeria’s best trained medical personnel into its own public healthcare system of which Muhammadu Buhari is a serial beneficiary. Half of the Nigerian doctors currently leaving in droves from Nigeria are heading to the UK and to the United States.
Many are going South to South Africa, as well in fact to some even nondescript countries where they seem to make a better life for themselves. Any place but Nigeria. It must of course be said here that Buhari’s policies did not begin the exodus of Nigerian doctors for Greener pastures.
In the 1980s, under the military regime, many Nigerian hospitals and Medical Schools saw the large exodus of Nigerian medical professionals to places like Kuwait, Bahrain, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, as well as to Europe and America. But the situation has worsened under Buhari.
This president does not give a fiddlers fart about the situation of the public health of Nigeria, for as long as he could, on Nigerian tax payer’s account, get his own fixes in the UK regularly.
It is both a serious moral and a political question that the health of the president of a sovereign country like Nigeria should be farmed out to the doctors of another nation. The health of the president is a national security issue.
Whoever controls his health controls his life, and whoever controls his life runs Nigeria, and can exert leverage that is potentially detrimental to the national interest of Nigeria.
It is axiomatic that countries seek to leverage and advantages over other countries in the system of bilateral relationships, and particularly if they have a history of colonial relationships.
That is one. Secondly, it is morally wrong for the president of Nigeria to receive first-class medical treatment abroad, in a well-run public healthcare system put in place by another nation, while he consciously runs down his own country’s health delivery system that ought to serve him and every citizen equally.
That is two. Education and health, are twin power-houses for National development. They are also critical national security issues.
But does the Buhari administration understand this? You would think. But it is all pointless even to ask this question. Who cares? This deaf-and-dumb administration does not listen.
Does not care what Nigerians think. The doctors can go on strike all they want. The hospitals should all close down. Who cares? After all, the president does not go to Nigerian hospitals. And that is, right there, the example of an abuse of power.